Labour exploitation in Oman: Thoughts on the World Day against Trafficking in Persons (30 July)
According to the United Nations, human trafficking, or trafficking in persons, is a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes including forced labour and sex.
The International Labour Organisation puts the number of victims of forced labour at 21 million worldwide.
In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, which:
urged governments to take coordinated and consistent measures to defeat this scourge;
called for integrating the fight against human trafficking into the UN’s broader programmes; and
established the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for victims of trafficking.
In 2013, Member States designated 30 July each year as a World Day against Trafficking in Persons.
Oman has signed the two Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that protect children from involvement in armed conflict and from exploitation for the purposes of prostitution and pornography. A Omani Law Combating Trafficking in Persons was promulgated by Royal Decree No. 126 of 2008, and a National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons was established. However, it is clear from cases monitored by the Omani Centre for Human Rights and others publicised by other NGOs that a great deal of exploitation of domestic workers and migrant labourers goes on in Oman, and that the Omani laws are powerless to protect such individuals from exploitation and trafficking.
The kafala sponsorship system remains one of the biggest problems faced by migrant workers of various nationalities, rendering them liable to exploitation over pay or being forced to work long hours with little or no overtime pay.
Female domestic workers, or housemaids, are particularly vulnerable:
a) Housemaids continue to suffer exploitation in the absence of radical solutions like ending the kafala system or introducing legislation guaranteeing them a safe and healthy work environment with regular pay and suitable living accommodation.
b) Most housemaids have their personal documents taken away from them.
c) Some suffer sexual harassment and domestic violence, and are denied time off from work.
d) The government in Oman has not yet provided a telephone hotline for victims to report abuse and lodge complaints, while labour recruitment bureaus are free to carry on transferring ownership of maids from one sponsor to another.
The US State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report praised Oman’s efforts to tackle the issue, but nevertheless said that the government of Oman “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”, and kept the sultanate on its “Tier 2” of countries.
Although the government has promised to abolish the kafala system in Oman, it has not yet taken any steps to do so – despite having passed the Law Combating Trafficking in Persons in 2008, and having established a National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons.
Surely abolishing the kafala system that enables trafficking and exploitation to go on unchecked should be an obvious step for the Committee and the government to take towards eliminating the scourge of human trafficking in Oman – don’t you agree?